The Greens March On in Colombia
by Charles Lemos, Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 12:26:10 AM EDT
It is perhaps fitting that today on Earth Day, new polling released by the news group CM& in Colombia confirms the continuing upward trend for Antanas Mockus, the candidate of the Partido Verde, the Colombian Green party.
The polling points to a statistical tie between Juan Manuel Santos of the officialist pro-Uribe party and Mockus in the first round election now just 38 days away. Santos' once commanding lead has shrunk to one point, 35 to 34 percent, well within the margin of error. Noemí Sanín, the Conservative party standard bearer, placed third with just 12 percent down seven points in the last two weeks. Mockus, on the other hand, has surged from just nine percent a month ago and gaining 12 points in the last two weeks alone. All other candidates polled in the low single digits.
If no candidate secures the 50 percent plus 1 required to claim the presidency in the first round, a second round run-off would be held on June 20th. The CM& poll indicates that in a second round Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and the two time former progressive mayor of Bogotá, would comfortably beat Santos, a scion of one of Colombia's most powerful families and a former Defense Minister in the Uribe Administration, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Should Mockus prevail, it would be the first time that a Green party anywhere in the world has taken power. That in itself is remarkable but consider that the Partido Verde was formed only in October of last year. Its rise has been meteoric and it is transforming Colombian politics. While Colombian elections have long been raucous and colourful, the Greens are breaking new ground running a people-powered campaign with a "I'm voting for Antanas, ask me why" convert a friend program and holding campaign rallies on bicycles.
Other developments include a lawsuit by Colombians living abroad to re-open the voter registeration period. Colombians in Colombia can register to vote up to 12 days prior to the May 30th election but Colombians living abroad were required to register by December 31, 2009 before the all of the full field was even selected and when a third period for Uribe was still a possibility. Only some 400,000 of the 4.5 millions Colombians living abroad have registered. The legal challenge began by Colombians using the social network Facebook. While the challenge is a grassroots effort, it has gained the support of the Mockus campaign.
The use of Facebook by the Greens is also something to behold and certainly unprecedented in Colombian politics. A month ago the Partido Verde page had 30,000 fans, today it has over 320,000. Beyond the official page, other Facebook groups are being created seemingly daily to support the Mockus candidacy.
As I reflect on this election, I'll say this: I'll turn 50 this year and I have voted in every election since turning 18. I have voted for candidates that I believe in but those never seem to win and I have voted for candidates who I supported but who don't necessarily share the totality of my values. I have twice voted for Alvaro Uribe believing that defeating the FARC was the country's most urgent necessity. I am appreciative of what Uribe has accomplished on the security front but I am also appalled by the lapses. When the Colombian army lures innocent young men to their deaths in order to claim a bounty for passing them off as FARC guerrillas, that's unacceptable. When the Colombian state intercepts the private communications of citizens, that's unacceptable. When the Colombian state turns a blind eye to paramilitarism and corruption, that's unacceptable. When 2.5 million Colombians become refugees in their own country, that's unacceptable. When another million Colombians are forced to live in exile, that's unacceptable. When in the past decade Colombia's economic success failed to close the social inequality gap, that's unacceptable. It is beyond gratifying that so many other Colombians now share these views.
If Mockus does win, I think I am liable to die from a heart attack in shock of actually for once having a candidate I totally believe in well actually win. It's the most amazing feeling in the world to see one's country grab a historic moment and run with it. I've never been prouder of being a Colombian than I am now and I am thankful that I have lived this long to see the country come of age and embrace progressive values so wholeheartedly and with such enthusiasm.
I will have a profile of Antanas Mockus later in the week. He really is something special.
If you're curious to see what a Colombian presidential campaign looks like, here's a video from yesterday's rally for the Partido Verde in Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth largest city located on the Caribbean coast. In the sense that the rally is colourful (everyone is wearing green - Liberals wear red and Conservatives blue) and that there is plenty of music, this rally is typical. What's not typical is that there was no free food. Voting buying remains a persistent problem in Colombia. The Greens aim to change that. The party was entitled to 7 billion pesos in state funds but returned 4.5 billion pesos telling the government to build schools instead.